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Johnson County Senior Center: Funding takes center stage

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Across the nation, millions of older adults take part in services offered by senior centers. Senior centers are often the focal point for all aging services in a community. Experts or contact people are housed in senior centers and can provide many services in the center itself or refer out to other organizations that can help.  To maintain operations, senior centers must leverage resources from a variety of sources.

Funding came to the forefront recently when local senior center director, Kathy Motsinger, reported hot meal distribution would cease in mid-June as federal funding was depleted.  Some of the nearly 100 seniors who frequent the Johnson County Senior Center are concerned the funding is based, at least partially, on the population of individuals aged 60 and older instead of the number of seniors served by the center.  Local seniors thus strongly feel that funding for each center should be based on membership, use, and support, and not merely the size of a county’s senior population.  

It is noteworthy that boasting of nearly 1,400 members, the Johnson County Senior Center is leading the charts of the 60 plus senior population and seniors using the designated center within a county, by a considerable margin.  The numbers give a fine testimony to the Johnson County Senior Center’s administration and hard-working volunteers. 

One senior, who wished to remain anonymous, worries that the wide range of activities will also be cut back. “We don’t have the facilities and opportunities the larger counties do,” she said, “but they get a larger share even if they don’t have the number of active participants we do.”

Senior center funding has been relatively flat over the past decade on the national level, failing to keep up with inflation and demand from a rapidly expanding older population. Government support for aging services comes from the Older Americans Act (OAA), passed in 1965. Over the years, this act has produced a large network of care providers and local government managers called Area Agencies on Aging. 

The network, which includes federal agencies, state agencies, and local area agencies, is called the “national aging network,” providing services such as congregate meal sites, recreational programming, volunteer opportunities, transportation services, information, and referrals. The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) and Tennessee’s nine Area Agencies on Aging and Disability (AAAD) assist senior centers throughout the state. 

Kathy Whitaker, Director, First Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability (FTAAAD), reports the state appropriation is $1.25 million, while FTAAAD’s appropriation is only $121,200. “We have an established funding formula,” said Whitaker, “developed many years ago in cooperation with our Senior Center Association.” 

She further broke down the funding formula for the 11 centers in FTAAAD, which includes a base amount of $3,000 per center and a formula based on population of age 60+, low-income minority, and unduplicated served. “The most a senior center can receive in funding is $20,000,” said Whitaker, who advises Johnson County Senior Center’s allocation is $7,200, which is calculated as 3.9 percent of the 60+ population plus low-income minority and 5.01 percent of the unduplicated number served.

In order to receive funding for programs and services, centers must meet certain requirements including non-discrimination; accessibility; posting requirements; annual report; annual satisfaction survey; fiscal integrity and management; provision of services; required SAMS database documentation of non-registered services; and background checks on all staff and volunteers.

Are residents are encouraged to continue to support the Johnson County Senior Center and offer assistance with their services, especially the continuation of meals provided to local seniors during this pandemic. Who could argue funds sent to the Johnson County Senior Center are put to good use?